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"Speak English, Taco," The girl with the giant backpack yelled when Maria asked where to find a bathroom. The backpack giggled as it bounced down the hall. It had been hours since Maria began looking for a bathroom. Anger boiled inside her, but she didn't know any English words to yell back. That was the hardest part. Back in El Salvador she'd always had something to say.

University Heights High School is on St. Anns Avenue in the South Bronx, which is part of the poorest congressional district in America, according to the Census Bureau. Six miles away is the Ethical Culture Fieldston School, with its arched stone entrance and celebrities’ children and $43,000-a-year tuition. 

He hid them in a shoebox under his bed. "My own little secret," he said. Inside the box, he kept 10 thin paperbacks he was given as a child. For years he didn't touch them. But as he reached 19, they became a lifeline. Each night after dinner, he closed his dorm-room door, reached under his bed, and opened the box. 

Wings Stadium, a dim, beery sports barn in Kalamazoo, Mich., is an appropriate home for the K-Wings minor-league hockey team and the Killamazoo Derby Darlins. Yet every year, in June, the site hosts a spectacle more uplifting than a season of flip checks.This is when it is the setting for the graduations of the city’s two main high schools.

Get yourself a bachelor’s degree from a “good school,” and those dreamy dreams of yours can come true. Get something else, like a cosmetologist license or a membership in the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, and you lose.

Like many other two-year college students, Monica Dekany has taken the long route to a degree. After graduating from high school in Glenelg, Maryland, in 1990, she enrolled in a local community college. Her grades were good there, but her direction was lacking. She dropped out, took a job at a fast-food restaurant, moved across the country, and then tried again at Utah State University in 1992.

I remember being on the floor of my room in South Quad, bawling my eyes out on the phone. I couldn't stop crying. Real, hard crying. The kind where your jaw unhinges and long, cathartic wails just come pouring right out of you. My mom was on the other end of the line, and for a very long time, she didn't say anything.

Each year, selective colleges promote their application totals, along with the virtues of their applicants.For this fall’s freshman class, the statistics reached remarkable levels. Stanford received a record 32,022 applications from students it called “simply amazing,” and accepted 7 percent of them.

It was a dark December afternoon in 2008 when a young man called at my office. He’s a war criminal,” said the producers when they came to my office the next morning, “and we can prove it.” 

Can you go to college on your computer? Some say yes, and others respond with a resounding no. But one thing is for sure: there is a boatload of public money to be vacuumed off an overcrowded, underfunded educational establishment desperate for at least the appearance of a quick fix.

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